ROSS FIRES A ROCKET AS RAITH DRAW
A late strike from substitute Reece McAlear denied Raith a win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle, as Rovers settled for a point following this entertaining and at times frantic encounter in the Highland capital. Raith had taken a deserved lead following Ethan Ross’s first-half blockbuster, but came up short following a spirited fight-back from their hosts.
Ross’s sixth goal of the season had put Raith in the driving seat, with John McGlynn’s 3-5-2 formation giving Rovers the numbers in key areas to out-fox their hosts in the first half. However, with Billy Dodds opting to go man-for-man to match Rovers’ formation in the second, slowly the home side came back into the game, and – although Raith worked manfully to keep their opponents at arm’s-length – McAlear’s fine late goal robbed the Kirkcaldy side of the win. While both sides had their chances, Raith’s resolute defence and strength and craft in midfield meant it was the visitors who would reflect on this as two points dropped rather than a point gained.
Raith, looking for a first League win over their opponents in twenty-six attempts, were bristling with January re-enforcements. Last week’s Fife derby had seen encouraging first performances from long-term signing Sam Stanton and Rangers’ loanee Ben Williamson. Both took their places alongside Ross Matthews in a three-man midfield, supporting Ethan Ross and Ethon Varian upfront. Tom Lang dropped out with Christophe Berra returning from suspension. Striker Jamie Gullan – at Raith on a two-and-a-half year contract following three separate loan spells, took his place amongst the substitutes.
Inverness, for so long the dominant side in the Championship, had hit rocky ground in recent weeks. Hamilton Arbroath and Dunfermline had each taken wins from the Caledonian Stadium in recent fixtures. An injury to Aaron Doran and prolific Michael Gardyne’s departure to Montrose had robbed manager Billy Dodds of two likely starters. Dodds only made one change – with Cameron Harper in for Doran – but the Highlanders would be looking to re-assert their promotion credentials in this most competitive of Championship seasons. Club captain Sean Welsh was on the bench.
Rovers were looking to arrest a run of three games without a goal – indeed, Raith’s last goals from open play came in November at the Falkirk Stadium. Having said that, manager John McGlynn was brimming with confidence, and urged his side forward from the off. Reghan Tumilty had a blast at goal inside the first twenty seconds as Raith’s full-backs pressed high.
The first five minutes were notable for Raith’s buzzing presence upfront – Ross and Varian hared about the Inverness back line. Ben Williamson’s shot may have struck an arm in the home box, although referee Don Robertson was uninterested. A vibrant opening saw another Williamson drive following good pressure from Ross Matthews on Kirk Broadfoot. The early portents suggested each side had at least a goal in them.
The first clear chance came for the hosts on seventeen minutes, with Robbie Deas sliding a lovely ball down the inside left channel for Billy Mckay – the home striker drawing a sharp save from Jamie MacDonald to earn a corner. At the other end, Stanton’s quicksilver turn had Broadfoot and Devine at action stations.
Having looked lively from the outset, Raith had the match’s outstanding performer in Ethan Ross, and the former Aberdeen man put his mark on the fixture with a sensational strike from distance on twenty-three minutes – running clear through midfield, Ross fired a wonderful drive from fully twenty-five yards across Ridgers and into the far right corner. The highly-rated striker’s sixth goal of the season was one of genuine quality, and reflected the confidence in Raith’s early play. Although an off-side Billy Mckay had the ball in the net moments later, it was Raith who looked in charge.
Raith continued to flow through the central third with pace and purpose. Ross Matthews’ crisp drive nearly found the corner of the net with Ridgers at full stretch. Moments later, Matthews again picked up a loose ball in midfield and drove forward – a deflection saw the ball beautifully for Ethan Ross, but the striker could only hold his head as his poked finish drifted wide.
The remainder of the first half followed the same pattern – Rovers a threat breaking from midfield, while Inverness had plenty of possession but were frustrated with a dearth of opportunities. Although Inverness had extra numbers out wide, full-backs Wallace Duffy and Cameron Harper had been under-utilised, allowing Raith’s three centre-halves to sweep up crosses from deep areas. With all going to plan for the Fifers at the break, it was the home side who would need something new in the second half.
Under bright floodlights, the hosts began the second period attacking the Kessock Bridge end of the ground having made two changes – former Rover Manny Duku and youngster Reece McAlear replacing the ineffective David Carson and full-back Wallace Duffy, as Dodds looked to match Raith’s 3-5-2 formation. However, it was Raith first to threaten – Danny Devine earning a booking as he halted Ethan Ross in his tracks. Williamson released Ross again two minutes later, Ethon Varian scorching across the near-post but unable to turn his finish into Ridgers’ goal.
Inverness arguably showed more intent in the opening minutes of the second half than they’d done in the previous forty-five – Duku nearly slipped in McKay, and a slide-rule pass from Sutherland again saw Mckay scamper down the inside right channel, with Berra on full alert. Cameron Harper’s whipped cross saw Tom Walsh in space, with Mckay heading narrowly wide from the second ball.
Raith suffered a blow with Ethan Ross struggling to shrug off a heavy knock – unable to cover the ground, John McGlynn opted for a straight swap, with Jamie Gullan introduced. While the change was arguably a like-for-like replacement, Rovers didn’t look the same threat following the change, with the hosts having been unable to cope with Ross’ skill and speed in possession.
The game continued at pace. Harper and Walsh sat high on Caley Thistle’s flanks, with McAlear breaking from midfield – the substitute fired just over on the hour as Inverness continued in a much more positive vein. Gullan smacked a shot just wide, with Ridgers pleased to see the effort fizz past his far post. Sutherland’s early ball saw Manny Duku bear down on goal, with MacDonald saving well. Like the closing stages of a boxing match, these two middle-weights continued to trade blows as the match moved into its closing stages.
With twenty minutes to go, a Raith counter saw Stanton feed Tumilty, with the full-back firing across Ridgers; Harper continued to deliver a series of excellent crosses for Mckay and Duku to attack. Raith still looked dangerous on the counter, while Inverness were building momentum and enjoying better possession. Liam Dick saw yellow for a hack at Duku.
The game was becoming increasingly stretched – Williamson and Stanton each burst through midfield with substitute Poplatnik providing width; but it was the home side who looked more threatening in their pursuit of a point. Raith’s work-rate needed to remain high, as Dodds urged his side forward. A Mckay header drifted wide; a speculative Tumilty effort did likewise.
With four and a half minutes left on the clock, heartbreak for Raith as suddenly the ball broke for the influential McAlear, who looked up and thumped home with a fine cross-shot, MacDonald’s side-netting bulging as the substitute peeled away to celebrate. While the goal had come out of nothing, the home side’s increased tempo and pressure in the second half had merited an equaliser.
The match continued at a frantic pace in the closing minutes – suddenly substitute Aaron Arnott was clear, firing at goal from eighteen yards, with Ridgers pulling off a splendid save low to his right; within a minute, Billy Mckay had a sight of goal, with MacDonald blocking at point-blank range – unbelievably saving his side a point, given Raith had lead for over an hour.
With Don Robertson’s final whistle bringing the breathless closing stages to an end, Rovers’ players sank to their knees, having put so much into the ninety minutes yet only come away with a point. Having strengthened the spine of the side considerably in the transfer window, Raith had looked strong in the challenge, resolute in defence, and exciting upfront. While the performance earned only a point, Raith should look forward to the second half of the season with real confidence and expectation – a mouth-watering home clash with table-toppers Arbroath follows next week.
Photo’s courtesy of Peter Paul:
John McGlynn spoke to RaithTV after the draw in Inverness:
After last week’s draw with Dunfermline at Stark’s Park, Raith head north this Saturday, to face an Inverness team that they haven’t beaten since 2000.
The sides have already met three times this season, with Rovers yet to come out on top over 90 minutes.
The Caley Jags won the first fixture in August, with Roddy MacGregor’s late goal condemning Raith to a 1-0 defeat.
It was all square the next time the two sides faced off in October, despite Rovers playing with just 10 men for all of the second half.
Ross Matthews was dismissed after 45 minutes, but Rovers took the lead through Aidan Connolly, although Sean Welsh equalised with 10 minutes to go.
The most recent meeting was in November, when Raith came out on top on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the Challenge Cup.
As you would imagine from a fixture where Raith have failed to register a win in 22 years, Inverness have far and away the better record in this fixture, with six wins and four draws from the most recent meetings.
Saturday’s match official will be Don Robertson.
Head-To-Head Away League Record:
Inverness Wins: 9 | Raith Rovers Wins: 2 | Draws: 2
Inverness Goals: 27 | Raith Rovers Goals: 11
Inverness: D-W-D-W-L-D | Raith Rovers: D-D-W-L-L-D
Inverness: Billy McKay 10 | Michael Gardyne 5
Raith Rovers: Dario Zanatta 9 | Ethan Ross 5
Inverness: 6/5 | Raith Rovers: 2/1 | Draw: 9/4